Equally protected? A review of the evidence on the physical punishment of children

Young boy in a striped topThis report was commissioned by NSPCC Scotland, Children 1st, Barnardo's Scotland and the Children and Young People's Commissioner Scotland. It is an update of a 2008 review of physical punishment in Northern Ireland, The 'smacking debate' in Northern Ireland: messages from research (PDF).

This review was produced by researchers at the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London (UCL). It summarises evidence that has become available since the Northern Ireland review about:

  • the prevalence of and attitudes towards parental physical punishment in the UK and other Organisation for Economic Co-operation (OECD) countries
  • the short and long term outcomes of physical punishment for health, development and wellbeing
  • the relationship between physical punishment and the risk of child maltreatment.

Authors: Anja Heilmann, Yvonne Kelly and Richard G Watt
Published: 2015

Key findings from the evidence include:

  • physical punishment is in decline in many countries, including the UK
  • physical punishment is associated with increased childhood aggression and antisocial behaviour
  • experiencing physical punishment is related to depressive symptoms and anxiety among children
  • physical punishment carries a serious risk of escalation into abuse.
Executive summary 6
Introduction 9
Background and aim 11
Methodology 17
Results 20
Discussion 38
Conclusion 41
Appendix 1 49
Appendix 2 50

"The international evidence could not be any clearer – physical punishment has the potential to damage children and carries the risk of escalation into physical abuse."

Please cite as: Heilmann, A., Kelly, Y. and Watt, R.G. (2015) Equally protected?: a review of the evidence on the physical punishment of children. London: NSPCC.

Got a question?

Our Knowledge and Information Service answer over a thousand enquiries every year helping professionals find the information and resources they need to keep children safe.

Send us your enquiry

Related resources

NSPCC helpline

Through the NSPCC helpline, we offer help, advice and support to thousands of parents, professionals and families.
Read about our helplines


Our Childline service offers help and support to thousands of children and young people whenever they need us. 
Read about Childline

Positive parenting

Tips to help cope with all the demands of parenting. Advice on setting boundaries for your child, building relationships and keeping your cool. 
Find out more

Handle with care

Advice for parents on safe ways to hold and care for your baby and ways to cope when the crying doesn’t stop.
Find out more

Physical abuse

Physical abuse is deliberately hurting a child causing injuries such as bruises, broken bones, burns or cuts.
Read more about physical abuse

Fighting for childhood in Scotland

How we’re building a better future for Scotland's children through working with local services and communities and influencing national policy.
Find out more


Our Current Awareness Service for Practice, Policy And Research delivers free weekly email alerts to keep you up-to-date with all the latest safeguarding and child protection news.

Sign up to CASPAR

Information Service

Our free service for people who work with children can help you find the latest policy, practice, research and news on child protection and related subjects.

For more information, call us or email help@nspcc.org.uk.

0808 800 5000

Submit an enquiry

How safe are our children? Growing up online

Our annual flagship conference is for everyone working in child protection.

Find out more

Follow @NSPCCpro

Follow us on Twitter and keep up-to-date with all the latest news in child protection.

Follow @NSPCCpro on Twitter

Library catalogue

We hold the UK's largest collection of child protection resources and the only UK database specialising in published material on child protection, child abuse and child neglect.

Search the library

New in the Library

A free weekly email listing all of the new child protection publications added to our library collection.

Sign up to New in the Library

Helping you keep children safe

Read our guide for professionals on what we do and the ways we can work with you to protect children and prevent abuse and neglect.

Read our guide (PDF)

Impact and evidence

Find out how we evaluate and research the impact we’re making in protecting children, get tips and tools for researchers and access resources.

Our impact and evidence

Training and consultancy

Grow your child protection knowledge and skills with CPD certified courses delivered by our experts nationwide and online.
Get expert training

Sharing knowledge to keep children safe

Read our guide to the NSPCC Knowledge and Information Service to find out how we can help you with child protection queries, support your research, and help you learn and develop.

Read our guide (PDF)